EmptyWalter Kerr Theatre, New York
In an age of overblown tuners, "A Catered Affair," the new musical adaptation of the little-known 1956 film starring Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine, arrives as a tonic. Running a concise but enthralling 90 minutes, this quietly intense, intimate musical possesses a heart and emotional power that too often has been missing from Broadway musicals. Although it will appeal more to discerning theatergoers than the masses, the show should garner enough critical and awards recognition to provide it a healthy run.
Adapted by Harvey Fierstein, who also plays a significant role, the book is based on a teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky and the subsequent screenplay by Gore Vidal. Set in 1953, it revolves around a lower-middle-class Bronx family thrown into turmoil over the impending nuptials of daughter Janey (Leslie Kritzer) and her longtime boyfriend, Ralph (Matt Cavenaugh).
The young couple wants a quickie wedding at City Hall, but Mom Aggie (Faith Prince) longs to provide a lavish catered affair, the sort of which she was denied for her own long-ago wedding to husband Tom (Tom Wopat). She intends to pay for it with the bereavement check given by the government for the recent death of their son in the war. Unfortunately, this means that cab driver Tom will have to do without the taxi medallion he has coveted for about two decades.
Fierstein, underplaying with admirable restraint, plays Aggie's bachelor brother, Winston (played by Barry Fitzgerald in the film), who here is reconceived as a closeted gay man struggling with his own personal issues.
The book skillfully boils down the original story to its essence without shortchanging the inner turmoil of the main characters in the process.
The beautiful score by John Bucchino, making his Broadway debut, gives each of the main players their chance to shine. Particularly memorable is "I Stayed," powerfully sung by Wopat, in which the long-simmering Tom finally gets the chance to fully unleash his anger, and "Vision," in which Prince movingly conveys Aggie's dream of her own wedding. Even Fierstein, with his ragged, rasping voice, has several notable numbers, including the touching "Coney Island" and the raging "Immediate Family."
John Doyle's deceptively simple staging, utilizing visual projections and minimal props, plumbs the material's emotional depth to devastating effect. Prince and Wopat are deeply moving as the long-married couple who rediscover their love for each other, and the supporting performances are pitch-perfect.
A CATERED AFFAIR
Presented by Jujamcyn Theatres, Jordan Roth, Harvey Entertainment/Ron Fierstein, Richie Jackson, Daryl Roth, John O'Boyle/Ricky Stevens/David-Tolentino and Barbara Russell/Ron Sharpe in association with Frankel-Baruch-Viertel-Routh Group, Broadway Across America, True Love Prods., Rick Stein/Mayerson-Bell-Staton-Osher Group and Jan Kalish
Book: Harvey Fierstein
Music-lyrics: John Bucchino
Director: John Doyle
Set designer: David Gallo
Costume designer: Ann Hould-Ward
Lighting designer: Brian MacDevitt
Sound designer: Dan Moses Schrier
Aggie: Faith Prince
Tom: Tom Wopat
Winston: Harvey Fierstein
Janey: Leslie Kritzer
Ralph: Matt Cavenaugh
Mr. Halloran/Sam: Philip Hoffman
Alice/Army Sergeant: Katie Klaus
Dolores/Caterer: Heather MacRae
Pasha/Mrs. Halloran: Lori Wilner
Myra/Dress Saleswomen: Kristine Zbornik